Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Loss   Rewatch 
January 18, 2021 1:12 PM - Season 4, Episode 10 - Subscribe

Counselor Troi loses her empathic powers; the Enterprise is slowly pulled off course by an unknown force existing in two-dimensional form into a deadly cosmic string.

You keep excellent records, Memory Alpha.

Story and script
  • Rick Berman recalled, "I pushed for this episode a lot. It was fascinating to me that someone would lose one of their senses and be unable to explain it to others because they didn't have it in the first place. If you were the only sighted person in a colony of blind people and suddenly you lost your vision and they all said 'So what?'… that's what this was." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 212)
  • Michael Piller noted, "This basic idea has been pitched to us every season, with Troi losing her sense of empathy. Finally, because we needed a Troi show, we said let's do it here." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 212)
  • According to Piller, the writing staff briefly considered making Troi's loss of her empathic sense permanent. Piller commented, "The bottom line for me was that these shows work because the journey is interesting and that what she learns and what she goes through has to be interesting and involving and, ultimately, educational in that we are showing off the stages of someone who has a serious disability, and what they go through when they are suffering this." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, pp. 212-213)
Cast and characters
  • This is the first episode of TNG that did not feature Wil Wheaton as a regular, as his character Wesley Crusher had departed for Starfleet Academy in the previous episode. Wheaton later reprised the role of Wesley in TNG: "The Game", "The First Duty", "Parallels" and "Journey's End".
  • The structural integrity field, an important part of a spacecraft's systems, was first referenced in this episode.
  • The Breen are also mentioned for the first time in this episode; they are, like the Ferengi, empathically undetectable by Betazoids.
  • The counselor's office was slightly modified after its last appearance in "The Price" but its appearance remains pretty much unchanged from this episode on.
  • Cosmic strings were later mentioned by Deanna Troi again, in "Disaster", when Miles O'Brien clarified that they are "a completely different phenomenon" from quantum filaments.
  • It's implied that Counselor Troi is the only empath on board the Enterprise, at least during the course of this episode, or at least the only one whose biology is affected by proximity to the beings.
Poster's Log:
The classic "stages of loss" are well-documented in this one, from both Ensign Brooks and Deanna displaying denial through Deanna's final acceptance when she joins Data to work on the problem.

My biggest nitpick with this episode has always been this: these beings are two dimensional, and appear to be all congregated in a single plane of no thickness (if the plane of the creatures had dimension, the Enterprise sensors would be able to see them). Why not use the thrusters to push the ship up or down, outside of the plane of the beings, or launch a shuttlecraft above or below the plane and use it to tow the Enterprise free?

I really would have liked more expository follow-up into what the changed movement pattern following the attempt to break free actually meant, maybe something linking it to the "moth to a flame" instinct.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:

Not a favorite of mine on original watch, but much tastier upon rewatching. Ensign Brooks is still slightly over-the-top in her denial, but bits of Troi's counseling actually feels like valid therapy. Marina's ability to portray the various emotional stages of grief without joining Brooks in over-the-topness is appreciable, especially the angry dismissiveness when Riker comes to talk to her the first time.
posted by hanov3r (14 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've skipped this one a few times on past rewatches because of a vague—and it turns out, not accurate—impression that Sirtis was overacting in it. Now, perhaps aided by the profound psychological shocks of living through the past half-decade or so, I found I could appreciate how well she did with an almost impossible acting challenge: convey the effect of a profound PARA-psychological shock. I mean, ESP's not real, so how do you drill down into what it would mean for a person who's always had it to lose it? It really does make sense that she'd go from zero to FUCK YOU YOU FUCKERS within just a scene or two. And Riker's description of her having always been a little "aristocratic" is such good writing: it refers to the fact that she's sort of a princess without boring us with Betazoid politics or Lwaxana's various titles, and it suggests a lot about their relationship, pre-season-one and now.

Maybe a must-see episode, really, for the characterization. But that said, there's something way too tidy and TV-writing-y about every Ensign Brooks scene.

If you want to see Sirtis REALLY upset, watch her performance in the Granada TV adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 1:18 PM on January 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

The part where Riker confronts Deanna is a good one, but the one line Riker has about how Deanna has lost her sense of control and how she always had an edge felt just like just a little too much of a rehash of Deanna's takedown of Ral in "The Price". It's a point worth making, but they lost an opportunity to call directly back to that episode. Here it just feels like Deanna didn't learn a lesson about her Betazoid heritage the first time around.

Guinan and Deanna have their chat in Ten Forward. They talk about /human/ instinct and all and at the end of their conversation, Guinan says that it is what makes life interesting. Is this another instance where a non-human talks about having some kind of attribute that can only be described as human because it's such fundamental part of the human condition?

I like this one very much. Troi is very good and her interactions with Will on a personal level are always fun.
posted by Fukiyama at 5:32 PM on January 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is probably the best Troi episode so far, although there haven't been a bunch. "The Price" wasn't bad, but "Haven" still strikes me as a stealth pilot for a show starring her ex-fiance. This one has some really good dialogue for Troi, and in fact a lot of it meets the standard that a lot of SF shows (not just Trek) don't manage surprisingly often: that sounds like something that a real person would say. "That is a common belief with no scientific basis, no doubt created by normal people who felt uncomfortable around the disabled" is so blunt and honest that, if MeFi still allowed images in comments, I'd have one of those GIFs where someone is pointing upwards to affirm the quote. Likewise, her angry dialogue with Beverly (quoted in the MA entry) is totally unfair, but also totally someone who's terrified and lashing out at the closest person within reach would say. People do that! Especially in times of crisis! Sometimes even on this very site! I've seen it, I tell you.

As for the whole thing about the 2D critters dragging the ship along to the rave or orgy or whatever they want to do in the string fragment... [shrugs] maybe they do, I dunno. It's all good for the narrative purpose, which is to prove that Troi is more than her superpower. (Compare/contrast Odo in DS9 when he lost his shapeshifting ability--for more than one episode--and likewise proved that he was more than just a mighty morphin' cop.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:53 PM on January 18, 2021 [6 favorites]

"Human rights. Why the very name is racist. The Federation is no more than a homo sapiens only club."
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:58 PM on January 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

Guinan and Deanna have their chat in Ten Forward. They talk about /human/ instinct and all and at the end of their conversation, Guinan says that it is what makes life interesting. Is this another instance where a non-human talks about having some kind of attribute that can only be described as human because it's such fundamental part of the human condition?

This kind of thing annoys me too but I choose to interpret it as a translation issue, where the characters are saying the equivalent of “humanoid and/or sapient” and we’re just hearing the equivalent in 20th century English. Of course it’s really just lazy writing but, eh.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:05 PM on January 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't really enjoy this one too much, but Troi's telling off Picard (and his pretty clueless ineffectual attempts to cheer her up) have really stuck with me. I remember that scene very clearly from almost 30 years ago, I don't remember anyone so thoroughly getting the best of Picard in a verbal dispute in the whole series.

Also love when Troi has no use for Riker's pity, and he, realizing he's really stepped in it, tries to pull the "Imzadi" card. Troi is not having it.

When Data identifies the cosmic string, the young female ensign, who is presumably a graduate of Starfleet Academy, and presumably did quite well in order to be posted to the Enterprise, and has presumably impressed enough while she's been there to take the helm position, replies "gee, cosmic string, whassat?". Luckily, Riker is there to define it for her. She probably got briefed by Shelby at some point to act dumb around Riker so as not to appear threatening.

As Halloween Jack noted, the language in this episode is very unusual throughout, like they had someone who wasn't a regular do all the dialogue for Troi's scenes, almost a different show.

I did notice this episode had several Bechdel scenes, a rare feet on TNG which they only managed to do since the episode is about feelings.
posted by skewed at 6:30 AM on January 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

Cards from the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

Just a couple simple dilemmas from 1994's Premiere set, namely Cosmic String Fragment and Two-Dimensional Creatures. As both of these require basic classifications to pass, they were never major obstacles. Much more common to play CSF on one's own mission for 5 easy bonus points.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:34 AM on January 19, 2021

I really appreciated the disability inspiration-porn smackdown so much more this time. Back then, even I knew that whole "when you go blind, your other senses become heightened" was garbage so it was good to have that vanishingly rare moment of mainstream TV when a bullshit myth is called a bullshit myth. But I'd forgotten, and really appreciated this time, when Deanna swatted away his attempt at inspiring her with another disabled person he'd known who was exceptional.

Even though I think resigning was a little too over the top, I understood her distress more now. I lost a huge part of my identity when my twin died, and I can grok it in a way I couldn't back when I first watched it. Trying to define for other people what it was like, what it still feels like, is next to impossible, and the way Deanna lashed out to people she actually loves and respects makes so much more sense to me at this point.

I confess I don't get any of the stuff about the aliens and why they were affecting people that way.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 11:12 AM on January 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

Is this the first appearance of the exterior shot in which the camera flies between the hull and the nacelle?
posted by rocketman at 6:27 AM on January 20, 2021

Finally, the fact that Starfleet ships can only navigate in two dimensions comes back to bite them. As I recall, they only manage to use the vertical dimension in the alternate future of All Good Things. Since that future was prevented, it is unclear if that part will ever come to pass.

I had not recalled this episode at all, except I did have a moment of recognition when Guinan threatened to apply for Deanna's job. For all the talk about humanity's advancement, everyone (except perhaps Guinan) seems really bad at comforting Deanna. (Also, contrast grieving in this episode with how Roddenberry insisted death gets handled in The Bonding.)
posted by ckape at 11:52 AM on January 20, 2021

Finally, the fact that Starfleet ships can only navigate in two dimensions comes back to bite them. As I recall, they only manage to use the vertical dimension in the alternate future of All Good Things.

Is that a skill they lost after Wrath of Khan? Kirk seemed to know his way around 3 dimensional space.
posted by hanov3r at 12:06 PM on January 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

My hunch is the two-dimensional MacGuffin was meant as a metaphor for Troi's own loss of a "dimension" of her own subjective universe, and for that reason they didn't feel it necessary to Treknobabble it into any more plausibility than they already had. After all, this show often (more often than any other?) approached the "too much Treknobabble" danger zone.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:00 AM on January 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

That we have a “cosmic string” and 2 dimensional beings makes me think that someone had read something about superstring theory (or string theory or m theory or whatever they were calling it in 1990) since the concept of higher dimensions in those theories is often illustrated by asking the reader to imagine how 2-dimensional beings might interact with 3-dimensional space.
posted by rodlymight at 7:25 PM on January 28, 2021

Guinan headwear watch: Blue velour circle.
posted by Kyol at 6:01 PM on February 6, 2021

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